Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has teamed up with House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to deliver a new request to President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Speaker Nancy Pelosi regarding the White House’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation.
Sanders and Jayapal have now demanded that a Medicare expansion must be included in the spending bill unconditionally. That creates a new problem for Biden, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already said he opposes a Medicare expansion.
Manchin said recently that “spending trillions” on expanding programs when “we can’t even pay” for Medicare as an essential service is the “definition of fiscal insanity.” He added that “we need to stabilize” Medicare, noting the projections showing that the “trust fund” will be insolvent by 2026. Manchin unequivocally said that he insists that Medicare be stabilized before going forward with discussions about expansion.
Sanders and Jayapal have responded by digging in their heels. Both have expressly said that including Medicare expansion in the pending bill is “not negotiable.”
Philip Klein at National Review notes the contradictory nature of what Sanders is demanding. He is fighting to include dental and vision coverage for persons currently covered. Given Sanders’ often-repeated goal of creating single-payer healthcare “Medicare For All” system, it might make sense if he were pressing to expand Medicare by lowering the age for eligibility. Moving the period down to 60 or even lower would expand the number of people who would then have a vested interest in continuing the program at all costs.
However, Sanders’ proposal does not seem to move the country closer to single-payer for all. It would make it more expensive to lower the eligibility age or requirements because of the expanded level of available covered services. For example, even Canada’s single-payer system, which Bernie loves, does not cover dental or vision needs.
Even before the latest “line in the sand” presented by Sanders and Jayapal, Democrats had already been forced to accept that the “Build Back Better” plan is going to require some actual negotiation to be passed, even assuming that no Republican support will be forthcoming.
It will be interesting to watch if Joe Biden has enough money to put together a large spending package that both parties can agree on or if the entire structure implodes in the run-up to next year’s critical midterm elections.